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His love of language blossoms into a window on the world

If you saw an ordinary window while walking down the street, would you stop to chat?
Probably not. After all, windows are everywhere: in homes, in business offices, in high rises, in cars and airplanes. What’s so special about an ordinary window?
Ah, but that’s not so, says Anu Garg. Window, like all words, has a story to tell, if you’ll only listen.
“Words are like people,” Garg says. “You might find somebody on the street, a most plain-looking person, and you think, ‘Hmmm, what could be a good thing about him?’ But if you get to know him, you can discover fascinating stories.”
Had you not been so preoccupied with your own thoughts, you could have found out that window has a lovely story to tell. In Old Norse, it means “wind-eye,” and when you open a window, wind comes in. Literally, window is wind’s eye.
This is what Anu Garg does every day. He learns the stories behind words and then shares them with people in 200 countries through a free daily e-mail called A Word A Day, said to be the world’s biggest online school. Just last week, Garg signed on his one millionth student, so I telephoned Seattle, Wash., to congratulate him. After all, I am a student, too.
It turns out that Garg’s story is as interesting as any word’s. He grew up in northern India and began his education sitting under a mango tree in a small village. His school consisted of a few broken sticks of chalk and a blackboard made by painting a flat piece of wood with soot.
Please don’t get the wrong impression, Garg says as we chat. He was not deprived. His father worked with rural governments, and his family always lived in small villages. Where or how you learn isn’t important anyway, he says. You can learn reading by a kerosene lamp, which he did.
He came to the United States and went to graduate school in Cleveland, Ohio, where he called himself a Cleveland Indian. He became a professional computer geek, but continued studying languages. He started as a hobby, but it grew phenomenally, all by word of mouth.
“It became so big that I felt that I was doing two jobs, except that I enjoyed both,” he says. Still, he needed to choose: computers or words. He chose words.
I tried to get Garg, who has written three books, to tell me his favorite word, but his answer was: “Phil, I don’t play favorites with words.”
He did say this: You can know all the words, “but if you really don’t mean them — if you don’t put them into action — all the words in the world don’t mean a thing.” So let’s just say his favorite word is action.
On the day this column was written, by the way, his word of the day was la la land, which is where you might be if you ever stop and chat with a window while walking down the street.

Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.